Prime Minister Gaston Browne calls on the region’s young scholars to embrace scholarship

IT

Juin 4, 2021

ST. JOHN, Antigua and Barbuda – 3rd June, 2021……Prime Minister the Hon. Gaston Browne has called on the region’s young scholars to embrace the intellectual approach to problem solving.

The country’s leader was speaking on Thursday, 3rd June at the CXC Regional Awards for Outstanding Performance in July/August 2020 Examinations being held in St. John, Antigua and Barbuda.

“There are those who have deliberately taken an anti-intellectual posture and would seek to ridicule you for embracing scholarship. I urge you to embrace your intellect and to continue pursuing excellence. The Caribbean region is depending on you, to take the baton from my generation and to elevate our people to heights that our parents never dreamed of. Begin to cultivate an unshakable conviction and commitment to the advancement of the region and jealously protect our place in the world,” said Prime Minister Browne.

The country’ leader also pointed out that although not recognized immediately, the experience of scholars during the current global pandemic is something no generation alive today has ever experienced. “It is often said that Caribbean people do not document their experiences as much as they ought to. I therefore encourage you to consign that truism to the annals of idle chatter and document your experiences so that your children can read about them in the future. This may very well become an important exercise in creating a blueprint for future generations,” he stated.

We are pleased to produce in full, the text of the Prime Minister’s address: (Check against delivery)

 

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“Recognizing Excellence in a Time of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the COVID-19 Pandemic”

 

A speech delivered by the

Hon. Gaston A. Browne

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda

at the CXC Regional Awards for Outstanding Performance in 2020 Examinations

Thursday 3rd June 2021.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, scholars all, good evening.

It is indeed a distinct privilege and an honour to be addressing you, the crème de la crème of young Caribbean minds. I wish to congratulate you on your very high achievements in the various disciplines, and today’s ceremony is testament to the effort you have placed in your studies. I take this opportunity to also congratulate your schools, the administration and teachers; and also, to shower praises on your parents and/or guardians for the effort they too would have put in to ensure that you become high achievers.

Strong commendations are in order for the Caribbean Examinations Council for hosting this event today, as a way of ensuring that your achievements are given deserved recognition. Indeed, CXC is one of the primary movers and shakers in the region, as it has been tasked with the responsibility to test and validate the learning of our people. I have distinct memories of taking the CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations many moons ago. Truly, we have come a long way as a region! The future of CXC, and indeed the region, is at a crossroads in this era of automation and big data, heralded by the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A cursory glance at human history reveals, that events tend to occur in cycles that are similar to the shape of the alpha helix, evidenced in certain types of DNA structures. While time is moving forward, at certain points, specific phenomena are clearly visible. One such phenomenon is the occurrence of industrial revolutions that change the way in which humans interact with their world, and these revolutions have been largely responsible for the growth and prosperity of human beings.

The first industrial revolution occurred when there was a transition from hand production methods to machines, using steam and water power. The time period when this happened is usually dated between 1760 and 1840.  The second revolution, also known as the Technological Revolution, was marked by the installation of communication networks such as the telegraph and railroad which allowed for the faster transmission of ideas. It was also the period of widespread availability of electricity and the attendant increase in factory production.

Many factory workers were replaced by machines during this period, dating from 1870 to 1914. The third of these revolutions is usually termed the Digital Revolution and it occurred after the end of the two World Wars. The result was a slowdown in industrialization, and a move towards digital technologies such as the computer. That revolution has led to the present revolution in a much shorter time than previously evident in human history.

Today, the world is in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. This is an era in which traditional manufacturing and industrial practices are being automated through the use of modern smart technology. We are now witnessing large-scale machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the advent of the internet of things (IoT),  which have minimized the requirement for human intervention. When coupled with machine learning, or artificial intelligence and the harnessing of big data, such systems present immense potential for human beings to create more efficient economies, thus leading to further growth and the creation of wealth. It also presents the opportunity for the development of machines that permit us to harness resources not only on planet earth, but also from elsewhere in our immediate solar system.

As with any industrial revolution, the extant one poses risks and challenges which, if not properly navigated, can lead to dire consequences, particularly for small island developing nations such as those within the Caribbean. It becomes incumbent upon us as a region to build an education system that adequately responds to the needs of modern economies, by giving our students the tools required to excel at all levels of their educational pursuits. While it has served its purpose in the development of our region, the days of “chalk and talk” are long gone and any education system still steeped in such a practice has surely seen the best of its days and is already sitting quietly in the twilight, on the verandah of its existence.

The use of computer technology and the integration of machine learning within the classroom, and indeed the wider society, must become the raison d’être of our education system. It is for this reason that The University of the West Indies Five Islands Campus in Antigua has partnered with my government to establish the School of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. Recognizing that 65% of students presently in primary school will perform jobs that have not yet been invented and that 47% of current jobs will be taken over by machines; it is the aim of my administration to begin to equip our region with the necessary skills so that the we might capitalize on opportunities presented in this Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In addition, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda is offering 25 scholarships annually to deserving scholars to pursue studies at The UWI Five Islands Campus in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. The faculty will be equipped with all of the modern tools that permit for simulated classrooms, using virtual reality and other powerful computer technologies to create real life learning experiences. No longer will our students need to go into the field, or out of the region to conduct important experiments, as these will be performed in virtually simulated environments that create real experiences. Moreover, collaboration with other learning institutions from all over the world, will enable learning to come alive as students will sit in the same virtually simulated classrooms, collaborating and learning from each other.

Future leaders of our Caribbean, what I am saying to you is that the future is not tomorrow or some other far-off date, the future is now; THE FUTURE IS UNFOLDING BEFORE OUR VERY EYES like a caterpillar, having metamorphosed into a magnificent butterfly, emerging from its cocoon at the fresh dawn of day.

I want to take this opportunity to encourage, that as you contemplate the next stage of your scholarly journey; that you give serious consideration to pursuing studies at the School of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligent at The UWI Five Islands Campus in beautiful Antigua and Barbuda. We guarantee that your studies at this campus will cause that beautiful flower of your mind to blossom into fruits yet unseen in our region. Give us your mind and let us give you the tools to unlock the potentialities of our region in areas such as the biological sciences, machine learning, information security, process automation, climate and environmental sciences, architecture, and engineering. The core idea is to use artificial intelligence and data science to solve some of the more menacing threats to the Caribbean, particularly in the areas of natural disasters, food security, and health and wellness.

At some point, it will become necessary to change the approach to teacher education, as they too need to be retrained in order to meet the demands of a world in which automation and machine learning are central pieces. The present COVID-19 pandemic served as a call to arms, as it forced regional governments to find alternatives to the usual face-to-face modes of instruction. Therefore, the use of online tools such as Google Classroom, provided a glimpse into the future of regional education. The time is therefore ripe for us to continue building on the lessons learned, as going backwards to what was, is simply NOT an option.

Being ever responsive, the Caribbean Examinations Council modified the way in which exams were conducted. Truth be told, the digital transformation at CXC did not begin with the advent of the global pandemic, as over the years the council has taken decisive steps to test and mark student scripts online in a digital environment. I look forward to the day when CXC takes this idea a step further and incorporate the imperatives of big data into the science of testing. In addition, the extant industrial revolution requires the realigning of traditional subject areas, as the lines that once neatly demarcated these are quickly collapsing like dominoes at the whims of wanton boys.

There is a place for app development and robotics on the school’s curriculum, thereby extending the existing information technology syllabus at CXC. Twinned with other areas, the Caribbean could create industries that are worth billions of dollars. Moreover, governments may have to look at expanding the traditional Modern Language offerings, venturing into languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Hindi and Russian. The ability to market apps to these large populations in their native languages is a yet untapped area for bringing new money into our economies. Think, for example, of developing an app that could be sold in both the Apple and Android stores. If that app is retailed at US $1.99, it takes only five hundred thousand purchases to earn one million US dollars. The above-mentioned language populations number in the billions. If as economies within the Caribbean we can capture even five per cent of these markets, we can significantly diversify our economies and create more wealth. Just think of the possibilities! These possibilities also exist in the creative arts to include our music, which we should transition into an exportable product. 

There is no question that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (commonly referred to as STEM) are the subject areas driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution. After all, automation and machine learning heavily depend on these foundational areas. But it must ever be remembered that the humanities, the arts, play an important role in humanizing us. While the sciences say what and how something is to be done, the humanities compel us to ask why: because something can be done, should it necessarily be done? What are the implications for us as human beings if we were to pursue a certain scientific endeavour?

Moreover, many scientific developments can find their genesis in artists using their fields as a testing ground for novel ideas. The benefit of this approach is, that it is the kind of experimentation that is harmless, and certain projections can be made before they are applied in real world situations. For example, long before human beings invented the submarine, Jules Verne theorized about an underwater capsule in his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, which was published between 1869 and 1870. In finding our niche in Industry 4.0, the Caribbean has to carve out a space for creative expression that preserves our cultural heritage, while finding new ways to continue developing the arts for our material benefit and the conservation of our unique identity in a world that is increasingly being marked by homogeneity.

The threat that homogeneity poses to both individual and collective identity cannot be underestimated nor understated. It especially becomes an existential threat when it erases cultural identity and the memory of who we are as a people. Consequently, there has to be a conscious movement towards preserving our identities as individual Caribbean states, while at the same time recognizing our similarities. So too, there has to be strong recognition of your individuality, without tending towards arrogance. As budding scholars, I call upon you to embrace evidence-based research and reject the tendency of pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, and wild speculation. In the era of widespread access to information, some valuable and others useless, it is possible for someone with little training to uncritically read information placed on the internet and treat it as if it were scientific research that has been rigorously peer reviewed. It has led to a situation where untrained “key board bullies” remain at a computer keyboard and have the unabashed temerity to attempt to discredit trained scientists who are recognized as experts in their fields.

Future leaders, I consider it a sacrosanct duty to encourage you to eschew and repudiate the overt meanderings of those who have hardened their hearts against the intellectual approach to problem solving. There are those who have deliberately taken an anti-intellectual posture and would seek to ridicule you for embracing scholarship. I urge you to embrace your intellect and to continue pursuing excellence. The Caribbean region is depending on you,  to take the baton from my generation and to elevate our people to heights that our parents never dreamed of. Begin to cultivate an unshakable conviction and commitment to the advancement of the region and jealously protect our place in the world.

While you may not immediately recognize your greatness, your experience as scholars during a global pandemic is something no generation alive today has ever experienced. It is often said that Caribbean people do not document their experiences as much as they ought to. I therefore encourage you to consign that truism to the annals of idle chatter and document your experiences so that your children can read about them in the future. This may very well become an important exercise in creating a blueprint for future generations.

Earlier, I intimated that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, followed the third in a much quicker time period than the other revolutions. The spread of digital technologies was largely responsible for precipitating Industry 4.0 in such a short time. Based on recent scientific simulations, the COVID-19 pandemic will be followed by other pandemics in quicker succession than previously witnessed in human history.

Typically, a pandemic occurs about every one hundred years. During the Technological Revolution, intercontinental communication and travel became much more accessible. There was a time in human history when it would take a few weeks to travel from the Caribbean to the USA or Europe. There was a time when only very few people from the Caribbean would have travelled to Asia. Conversely, it is now possible for some people to travel to Dubai to see the Burj Khalifa for themselves, then take a trip to Paris to dine at a restaurant, and then visit the Serengeti in Tanzania to view wildlife. And guess what? All of that could happen in the space of just a few days!

Some of you here today will end up studying outside of the region in places such as Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. With the consummate ease of travel, comes quicker contact with other people, and of course, contact with micro-organisms (pathogens) that can potentially transmit diseases. Another global pandemic therefore is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. As a region, it is therefore important that we document our responses to and the lessons learned from this pandemic. Moreover, using large data and machine learning, the region needs to conduct laboratory simulations, the results of which can guide decision making when it becomes necessary. It is this move towards being more proactive that must define you as the next generation of Caribbean leaders.

In closing, I use this opportunity to encourage you to continue your pursuit of exceptional achievement. You are only at the start of your journey and have a long way yet to go. At times, it will become difficult and you may even think of giving up. Whenever you feel that way, I implore you to remember the words of the Black American poet, Langston Hughes, from his poem “Dreams”:

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

In the midst of hardship and challenges, vow that you will be the eagle that soars away from the barren field frozen with snow and upwards to the radiant sky of exceptional brilliance.  Always remember that failure is not an option. Do not ever take the sacrifices of your parents for granted; some have toiled long and hard for you to succeed. Repay them by making them proud. Indeed, repay the region through your success and contribution to our region’s development!

I thank you!

Prime Minister Gaston Browne

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